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MPERS withholding new retirement payouts for BRPD; Broome holds firm on current system

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since its original publication to clarify that a judge in 2016 did not throw out the MPERS lawsuit, but rather directed the retirement system to file suit against the individual BRPD officers to receive a declaratory judgment.

The Municipal Police Employees Retirement System plans to withhold retirement payments to Baton Rouge police officers who retire this year until the city-parish stops including overtime pay in the contributions, part of a long-running disagreement between the city-parish and MPERS.

And in the latest development in the dispute, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome shot back today that her administration is holding firm on the city-parish’s current system, which includes overtime pay in the calculation for retirement benefits.
Broome, in a letter to the Metro Council, says her office, in consultation with the parish attorney, is addressing the issues raised by MPERS. No one, as yet, has been denied benefits, says Ben Huxen, the executive director and general counsel of MPERS.

“However, I can assure all of you that, if circumstances change, know that this office stands behind the original agreement and will take the necessary steps it can to protect the interests of the city-parish and its valued law enforcement employees,” Broome says in the letter.

Huxen says he hasn’t stopped paying retirees or surviving spouses who began receiving benefits after the city retirement system moved to MPERS. But as of Jan. 1, he says he won’t approve any application for retirement pay or other benefits until it receives compensation figures without the overtime included.

“We’ve got the money and they’re going to want the money,” Huxen says. “Something’s gotta give.”

The city-parish is essentially wasting money by contributing based on the higher rate that includes overtime, Huxen says. Plus, state law may prevent MPERS from reimbursing the city-parish for its contributions.

Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel says the parish attorney has talked with the retirement board members about the issue. Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson says the finance department is compiling the information requested and has been in touch with the MPERS attorney.

“We, of course, hope to resolve the matter amicably,” Batson says in an email.

The dispute is not new. Batson says the first suit was filed in 2011, and Huxen says MPERS previously requested a declaratory judgment but the judge directed MPERS to file suit against the individual officers, which he says would have been too burdensome and costly. 

To determine retirement benefits for officers, MPERS considers the highest-paid 36-month stretch in an officer’s career.

The city-parish, as the employer of BRPD officers, has for years included certain overtime payments, which drive up the benefit for officers. In her letter, Broome says the city-parish only includes mandatory overtime, not voluntary overtime. The Broome administration says the city-parish has an agreement, dating back to the “merger” of the two retirement systems, that guarantees those overtime payments.

Huxen maintains those overtime hours should not be included, and says the agreement only extended to those hired before the 2000 merger.

If the city-parish provides compensation figures without the overtime, Huxen plans to pay out benefits to future retirees based on their highest-paid three-year stretch without overtime. He will also recalculate how much the roughly 602 current retirees and spouses receive, assuming their previous calculation included overtime.

“It should have been addressed earlier,” says Huxen, who started his job at MPERS last July. “It’s a shame we’re dealing with it at this point in time.”

—Sam Karlin

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